LONDON—Of the 398 points played between Gilles Muller and Rafael Nadal over four hours and 48 minutes on Monday, there were dozens in the fifth set alone that you could single out as especially brilliant or brave.
There was the high forehand volley winner that Nadal put away—and celebrated with a fist shot toward the sky—to save match point at 4-5. There was the winning backhand pass that Muller reflexed down the line to save break point at 9-9. There was the McEnroe-esque half-volley that Rafa delicately directed for a winner to hold at 9-10. There was the pressure-packed put-away volley winner that Muller knocked off to reach 0-30 in the 18th and final game, which essentially won him the match.
But the point that best represented this agonizing fourth-round epic was a miss. A bad miss. A painful miss. With Muller serving at 12-12, Nadal went up 15-30. The crowd, which had chanted his name between points, grew louder. Muller missed his first serve. Nadal move toward the baseline for the second one. When the ball spun tepidly to his backhand side, he swung ... and hit it into the middle of the net.
Throughout the day, Nadal had squandered countless chances on Muller’s serve; he would convert, in the day’s most important statistic, just two of 16 break points. Now, as he watched his backhand fall into the net, Rafa couldn’t take it anymore. He grabbed his head and nearly fell to his knees.
Muller’s 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 15-13 victory was his second over Nadal at Wimbledon; the first came in 2005, when Rafa was 19. It means that Nadal has now gone six years without making it past the fourth round at a tournament where he once reached the final five straight times.